In an increasingly tech-driven world, where we’re constantly reminded of the importance of having a connected, smarter home, Stephen Zouch, Managing Director, Intergas Boilers, discusses whether this amount of control is a good thing, a cyber accident waiting to happen or a marketing masterstroke.
Today, technology integrated into houses is common place, especially in luxury homes. Computers control heating, cooling, security, lighting, solar shading, audio and visual devices – and it can all be managed remotely via the internet or an app on your phone. In 2017 Mark Zuckerberg published a video on Facebook showing us the gadgetry he’d installed in his family home in Palo Alto. The highlight is when Zuckerberg asks his robot assistant, who talks to him in the disembodied voice of Morgan Freeman, for a fresh T-shirt. This is duly fired from an air cannon in the wardrobe. Yes, that’s OTT, but Zuckerberg can also see which lights are on in the house and adjust the temperature in each room using the Application Programming Interface (API). But having a smarter home isn’t a recent phenomenon, our very own extreme gadget-lover and former British Formula One racing driver, Sir Stirling Moss, was an advocate of smart home technology in the 1960s. When he bought and extended his Mayfair home, where he still lives, he installed an automated bath, an electro-hydraulic dining table that can move from the kitchen on one floor directly down into the dining room on the floor below, and a letter tray which transports post from his office directly to his wife’s. Then there’s the carbon fibre lift, a later innovation, which was built for him by the Williams F1 team.
I’m not up there with Mark Zuckerberg or Sir Stirling Moss, but like a lot of people, I’m time poor and having a smart home is perfect for me, but why would I need to turn on my central heating from my smartphone while I’m at work? The convenience of fingertip control wherever you are seems to be the main attraction of systems like Hive and Nest, but my heating system, including an intuitive boiler, a seven-day timer and TRVs, has been set up to suit me and my family, so I really don’t need to touch it, but yes, it’s good to have a remote control facility on my phone, just in case.
But how important is control in the social housing arena? As 60 per cent of energy bills is the cost of central heating, smart energy management is crucial. So, in 2014 Intergas launched its new generation of smart boilers, the Eco RF with its Remote Management system. It’s already supporting housing associations and local authorities in the UK to lower and control service and maintenance costs and deliver the reliability and comfort of a first class heating system to its customers. This system should not be confused with glorified room thermostats, because Intergas Remote Management goes much further. It comes with a radio frequency module fitted as standard, which enables communication between the housing association or its contractor and the boiler. Now boiler performance can be monitored remotely and action taken when necessary; service visits can be based on the performance of the boiler in real time, rather than a date in the diary and the audit trail helps with future planning and budgeting. The Eco RF also works with Honeywell’s wireless room thermostat to deliver rapid response to changing demands, increasing still further the overall efficiency of the heating system. The key word here though, as always, is ‘control’. There’s a danger that the tail can wag the dog and that the smarter home’s hype has overtaken the reality, but as long as ‘long-term efficiency’ and ‘reliability’ are our watchwords, we’re in control, not the hype.
SMART HOMES AND CYBER-CRIME
The global smart home market is still in its infancy but was already worth $24.10 billion by 2016 and is expected to more than double to $53.45 billion by 2022. And that’s got to mean the market for cyber-crime is likely to enjoy some growth too. Most of us with a computer are more than aware that they can be hacked, spammed and riddled with viruses; if we’re not careful, these same threats could hit a smart home’s connected devices. Laura Duncan, Senior Cyber Security Manager at Price WaterHouse Cooper (PwC), advises that you don’t have to be a tech expert to ensure your cyber presence is protected: “It’s basic housekeeping for consumers and organisations. When buying a smart product,
do some online research first to see if it has been hacked before, make sure your password is strong and your network secure.”